Oscar Podcast


Craig Kennedy, Ryan Adams and I discuss 1933 and the 5th Annual Academy Awards. They weren’t as exciting as the previous year or the following year but it was the first ceremony to include the short categories, mainly because short films were popular but especially animated shorts, specifically, those featuring Mickey Mouse.

Grand Hotel won Best Picture, and remains one of those we look back on when digging up films that won without a Best Director nomination. In fact, Grand Hotel had no other nominations besides Best Picture and won.

Have a listen. Subscribe on iTunes.


“In the beginning, there was Louis B. Mayer. And he looked over the kingdom of Hollywood and its glory and said, “This is good.” And then he saw stirrings of unionism among studios craftsman and he said, “This stinks.” – Inside Oscar

Thus, the Academy Awards were born. We’re going backwards in time to the beginning of it all, back when Louis B. Mayer needed a dominant force to control the growing power of the unions. An organization was concocted to, among other things, mediate labor disputes, clean up tawdry content to satisfy the Hays Office and promote technical achievements in the film industry. Mayer wanted an elite club made up of the most popular and influential of the five branches, actors, directors, writers, technicians and producers.  Mayer was going to be in charge of choosing the members.  And, according to Inside Oscar, even though they planned on having an annual banquet of sorts for the membership, awards were not part of it.

On January 11, 1927, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences became a thing.  The first awards were “for distinctive achievement.”  By the following year, 1928, the awards committee had a voting system. Each Academy member would cast one nominating vote in the branch.  One person chosen from each branch (five people) would then choose the winners.   The privilege to vote in the awards was emphasized by then President Douglas Fairbanks, Sr. who said:

All members of the Academy are urged as a special duty and privilege to fill in their nominations of the Academy Awards of Merit with full recognition of the importance and responsibility of the act. Academy Awards of Merit should be considered the highest distinction attainable in the motion picture profession and only by the impartial justice and wisdom displayed by the membership in making their nominations will this desired result be possible.

What we call Best Picture now was to be called Best Production and it would go to the “most outstanding motion picture considering all elements that contribute to a picture’s greatness.”  They also had a separate award called “Artistic Quality of Production” that would honor the production company with the “most artistic, unique and/or original motion picture without reference to cost or magnitude.” In other words, they divided the big money makers from the smaller artistic pursuits, a trend they might be forced to back to since Hollywood is now moving in a very different direction.

Funnily enough, in the early days of naming the awards, Louis B. Mayer removed “International” from the name of the Academy to help build up the reputation of the Academy itself. They might want to rethink that name now as well.

In any case, Fairbanks said that these awards might help improve Hollywood’s image overall, “the screen and all its people were under a great and alarming cloud of public censure and contempt. Some constructive action seemed imperative to halt the attacks and establish the industry in the public mind as a respectable legitimate institution, and its people as reputable individuals.”

The statuette — from Inside Oscar:

As the Academy members filled out their nomination ballots, the founders of the Academy deliberated over what kind of trophy, plaque or scroll the ultimate winners would receive Mayer left the design of the award in the capable hands of Cedric Gibbons. While Gibbons was at an Academy meeting listening to Board members talk about the five branches and the need for a strong image for the film industry, he sketched away and then revealed his design: a naked man plunging a sword into a reel of film. The five holes on the reel, Gibbons explained, represented the Academy branches.

For the production of the statuette, the Academy gave $500 to an unemployed art school graduate named George Stanley, who sculpted Gibbons’ design in clay. Alex Smith then cast the 12 1/2 inch, 6 3/4 pound statuette in tin and copper and gold-plated the whole thing. The Award was ready; now it was time for the first winners.

We’ll be discussing Year One on our next podcast. Stay tuned.


“He’s a psychopathic killer but so what.” “You seem like a man who wouldn’t want to waste a chair.” “If the road you followed has led you to this, of what use was the road?” “The coin ain’t got no say.” “I’m just looking for what’s coming.” “But you never see that. Beer. That’s what coming.” “That’s foolish. You pick the one right tool.” “Are you going to shoot me?” “That depends. Do you see me?” The pitch perfect Coen brothers masterpiece was one of those “too big to ignore” points in Oscar history where a career high meets overdue status meets making history. It couldn’t lose. The trick for anyone reading the race that year was realizing that. So many didn’t. They falsely believed that the ambiguous ending would count the film out, that Oscar voters would be too soft to recognize greatness when they saw it. So many didn’t understand the ending. They said things like “it ended so many times.” How silly it all seems now, looking back. Like Schindler’s List, The Departed, The Hurt Locker, and 12 Years a Slave the movie would have had to SUCK not to win. The lure of making history combined with cinematic greatness can’t be and will never be denied. Continue reading…


2006 stands apart as one of my favorite Oscar years because it was like this past year in a way. It’s rare that the film I personally WANT to win actually wins. It was made all the sweeter by my own instincts about it winning being right on the money, as opposed to what many of my colleagues thought – that it was too dark to win, that a movie where Leonardo DiCaprio died at the end couldn’t win, etc. But I had a feeling that if Scorsese got even remotely close to a crossover crowd pleaser he would slam dunk the thing without breaking a sweat. And that’s exactly what happened. It still makes me happy looking back on it.

I also had a great moment in the elevator at Warner Bros talking to their publicist about The Departed. He/She said “We’re not expecting it to do much.” They took out one singular FYC ad for that campaign, or maybe a few but they never went out too far on a limb with it. Perhaps because Warners had the Eastwood double Flags of Our Fathers and Letters From Iwo Jima. Both films deserved to be recognized for Best Picture, in my opinion, but the critics only went nuts for the latter, which did end up getting/winning Best Picture. A few pundits even predicted it to win, but it was always the longest shot of the five nominees.
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The morning after Brokeback Mountain lost I got an email from a reader, a very young reader in a foreign country, who told me that he would have killed himself that night had he not found Oscarwatch. The reason was mainly that he’d found a place where people were bitching about it – loudly, as is our wont. We knew it meant a lot that Brokeback Mountain, which had won an unprecedented amount of awards heading into the race – taking even the Producers and Directors and Writers Guild awards. But one other movie was pushing through the crowd, one that won the SAG ensemble, the Eddie and the Writers Guild. Crash had a couple of things going for it over Brokeback Mountain, though for many of us (with the exception of a scant few like David Carr, for instance) it was unthinkable. Not to dump on Crash continually as I don’t think it’s the worst film to win Best Picture, but all four of the other nominees were superior in terms of ambition and artistry.

But Crash had much in the way of appealing to actors. It was also strong on themes of race and at that time racism trumped homophobia. Perhaps it still does. Perhaps you can’t even compare the two as I don’t think you can. They represent separate histories, separate fights, separate aches. The Academy could do the racism thing back then but they just couldn’t go there wholly with Brokeback Mountain, this because many of them refused to see it. The same fate was awaiting 12 Years a Slave if voters hadn’t put their might behind a film that would mean more than just the usual “like” button being clicked. So good for them – I feel confident that if they saw 12 Years they would be more than proud of their vote, just as if they’d seen Brokeback Mountain they would have seen one of the most richly told and moving stories of 2005.
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LOTR - The Return of the King 106

2003 was the year Peter Jackson, and his collaborators, finally collected gold on their Middle Earth trilogy. Return of the King was the grand slam, filling the bases and bring it all home. It won all of the 11 Oscars it was nominated for. The bigger fan you were of the films the better you did on the Oscar contest that year.

But there were other movies, most notably, Lost in Translation. Sofia Coppola’s lovely, lyrical coming of age film starring Scarlett Johansson and Bill Murray. It was also the year of Clint Eastwood great Mystic River. Sean Penn ended up winning the Oscar but many thought Bill Murray should have won instead (and were predicting such). That race was really the big story.

Funnily enough, Sean Penn and Charlize Theron (who are now dating) both won that year. Theron won for her astonishing transformation in Monster.

City of God was another standout. We’ll be discussing this year this week. Any comments or questions in advance, please put them here.


2001 will always be remembered as the year the first black actress won in the lead category. It wasn’t just that, though. Both Halle Berry and Denzel Washington won that night.  Here we are, an unbelievable twelve years later and no black actress has come close, save Viola Davis – whose part just wasn’t big enough, whose wasn’t naked enough, and who wasn’t Meryl Streep. I’m all for giving Meryl Streep all of the Oscars. I think she’s the best actor, male or female, currently working in Hollywood or maybe ever. I am dazzled by her work in August: Osage County — and it’s hard to believe that woman is the same one who was in The Devil Wears Prada and Julie and Julia. That she’d only won two Oscars was shameful, considering. And yet…readers grouse about my bringing this up – well, you should have been around in 2001, when Halle Berry and Denzel Washington were in the Oscar race.  You think it’s bad now, my friends.

I will say this – the complaints usually start with “it should be about the work.” And that’s partly true. But you have you have remove yourself from the small picture and look at the big picture.  The work is about opportunity, subject matter, and public interest. What drives those things determines who gets to try their hand at the great parts. We’re not quite at the place where Hollywood feels free to cast actors in a way that ignores race.  Black actors still have to play black parts in films that tell black stories. Those films, as it turns out, almost always have to carry the burden of being both politically correct, not insulting to the black community and not insulting to the white community, plus appealing to the, let’s face it, almost exclusively white community of critics. Those stories have to be universal enough to appeal across the board. It just doesn’t happen, my friends.  I always get the angry resistance to affirmative action having a place in a film awards race. Nobody should win “because they are black.” I’ll go along with that as long as we can also agree that people don’t get all of the great roles because they are white.

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It was a dramatic Oscar year, one where Steven Spielberg’s Saving Private Ryan was expected to take the big prize. Spielberg had won the DGA, after all, and would go on to win Best Director. But there were some rumblings afoot that Shakespeare in Love, the film that was heading into the Best Picture race with the most nominations, was going to win. The Los Angeles Times’ Kenneth Turan had predicted Saving Private Ryan but admitted later that his story had gone to print too early and that by the time the Oscars themselves rolled around, he could feel the surge for Shakespeare in Love.

Supposedly it was the year a whisper campaign took down the big dog, passing around the idea that Saving Private Ryan was really just about “the first 45 minutes.” Shakespeare in Love, however, is one of the best films to ever win Best Picture, in this site’s opinion, having seen the film now over 100 times at the very least. I know every line of it by heart. People often mistake Shakespeare in Love for just a sappy love story. Indeed it is anything but. Can you imagine a movie like that coming out now? Where the whole thing turns on a well-born lady’s (“I am not so well-born) desire to be an actor (“I’m sorry Mr. Winslow. I wanted to be an actor.”) Shakespeare himself emerges as a shadow behind Christopher Marlowe (“Lovely waistcoat. Shame about the poetry.”) — Shakespeare eventually finds his muse in Lady Viola. The film has one of the most beautiful endings I’ve ever seen.

Therefore, I don’t think the Academy was wrong in awarding Shakespeare in Love. I am planning to revisit Saving Private Ryan, a film I didn’t much like when I first saw it back in 1998. Perhaps after I see it again it will resonate better. I felt at the time that it was too sentimental in its conclusion — like on the level of War Horse. But I do look forward to revisiting it.

One thing I do know, however: Saving Private Ryan pretty much deserved to win Best Picture for those first 45 minutes alone. Wherever the movie goes after that is a different story. But those first 45 minutes — unforgettable.

In the end, Shakespeare in Love would enter the race with 13 nominations, winning 7. Only four films in Academy history have gotten 13 nods and not won Best Picture. Saving Private Ryan would enter with 11 and win 5. The other nominees were The Thin Red Line, Life is Beautiful and Elizabeth. Cate Blanchett was probably the rightful winner of Best Actress. Ian McKellen the rightful winner for Best Actor. Both lost.

Please leave questions for us in the comments if you’d like.

The Shawkshank Redemption might be the best film that never won Best Picture, or very nearly that. But nothing was going to beat Forrest Gump that year, not even Pulp Fiction. 1994 seems to be a memorable year for many film fans because of those two movies specifically. Both are continually celebrated the way the older generations celebrate Citizen Kane and Vertigo. Shawshank is somehow the most poetic thing when it concludes, proving that the way a movie ends is the most important thing about it.

The other film that was, I thought, significant was Robert Redford’s Quiz Show. Somehow, John Turturro was not nominated for Supporting Actor.  Quiz Show is a good example of the Oscars not really embracing films that depict Hollywood, or in this case, television, in an unflattering light. They much prefer when they’re freeing hostages from Iran.

If you have any questions, please leave them in the comments section.  Oscar Podcast will be uploaded some time Monday night.



There are very few Oscar years like 1993, when Schindler’s List won Best Picture. Inevitability took hold in the decades before, say, the 1970s frequently. But after the 1970s, when everything changed, surprise winners were more likely. Then, after Chariots of Fire all bets were off. But the Schindler’s Lists in Oscar history are few and far between. That is, a perfect storm of an overdue director, subject matter and execution. Very few films rise to the level of Schindler’s List, not in Spielberg’s career, not in Hollywood at all. But for this Academy, you might think of Schindler’s List as the ultimate Oscar Best Picture winner.
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Unforgiven won the Oscar for Clint Eastwood in 1992.  The best picture nominees that year did not include the year’s best film which was Robert Altman’s The Player. Oscar voters like to reward movies about themselves in a flattering reach-around. But they don’t like it so much when a writer, or a director, nails them. The Player’s basic plot repeats itself continually in Hollywood. Whether it’s the drugged out and discarded hooker who became a modern day Cinderella in Pretty Woman to every focus-grouped happy ending you see before you now.  In The Player Hollywood is moving towards their new motto, “Movies Now More Than Ever.” Probably Altman and co. had no idea what Hollywood would become in 2013.   The Player was nominated for Director, Screenplay and Editing. Malcolm X nominated for Best Actor and Costume.

Not for Best Actor for the brilliant Tim Robbins and not for Best Picture – of course.

Husbands and Wives, A River Runs Through It, and most notably, Malcolm X also ignored. In their place: A Few Good Men, Howards End, Scent of a Woman, The Crying Game.  The Podcast will go up probably around Monday – give or take.



1989 is one of the years we continually refer back to as it was both one of the only Oscar years where Best Picture went to a film without a directing nomination for its director, and it was also the year the Academy shut out Spike Lee’s Do the Right Thing.  I wrote about it for an Oscar Flashback already.

Essential viewing for next week’s podcast would have to include both Driving Miss Daisy and Lee’s exceptional, groundbreaking, all around brilliant Do the Right Thing.  The other films in the Best Picture race, Field of Dreams, Dead Poets Society, My Left Foot and Born on the Fourth of July could also be seen if you wanted to be thorough, though it’s easy to see why Driving Miss Daisy handily beat the competition.

This was also the year Daniel Day-Lewis and Denzel Washington won their first Oscars and kickstarted their formidable careers.  It was also the year Michelle Pfeiffer got the closest to winning a Best Actress Oscar, coming off the heels of the previous year where she showed her range with Dangerous Liaisons, Married to the Mob and Tequila Sunrise.  But how do you deny Jessica Tandy? You don’t.

Strangely, one of Woody Allen’s best films, Crimes and Misdemeanors was not nominated for Best Picture.  Another film worth seeing from that year is Enemies, A Love Story, which earned acting accolades. I have not seen that film in years but it was always a personal favorite.



In case you are interested, Craig Kennedy, Ryan Adams and I have been going through the Oscar years starting with the 1970s. This week we tackle 1988 when Rain Man won Best Picture.

Rain Man is one of the few films to go down as the box office champ of the year and win Best Picture.  Other films that can claim that title include:

Lord of the Rings: Return of the King
Forrest Gump
The Sting
The Godfather
The Sound of Music
My Fair Lady
Lawrence of Arabia
The Bridge on the River Kwai
The Greatest Show on Earth
Going My Way
Mrs. Miniver
Gone with the Wind
Mutiny on the Bounty

Now, it’s much harder to earn both number one at the box office and win Best Picture. The chasm between what sells and what Oscar voters like has never been wider in all of Oscar history.

Other interesting things to note, both 2001: A Space Odyssey and The Graduate were number one for the whole year. Imagine such a population of moviegoers.  This, according to Wikipedia.


In case you missed it, our latest podcast was dedicated to Ebert. Have a listen.

Next week we will return to the 1970s, with the year Godfather II beat Chinatown.

Last night, Craig Kennedy, Ryan and I do the Podcast Thang for episode 19 of Oscar podcast. You can subscribe to it on itunes if you’d like, or click here to listen.  


Craig Kennedy, Ryan, Erik Anderson and I all give our reactions to this year’s Oscar’s nominations and we also predict the Globes.

Have a listen.


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